Human Rights Watch says Cameroonian separatists target schools

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An international human rights group on Thursday accused separatist fighters in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions of systematically targetting schools, students and teachers during a civil war that has killed thousands of people.

The attacks have forced two out of every three schools in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions to close, denying over 700 000 students access to an education, US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.

The report documented attacks on at least 70 schools since2017, when a government crackdown on peaceful protesters ignited a full-blown conflict between the army of the mostly Francophone government and English-speaking militias.

The separatists, who want to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia, have demanded that schools close to protest the government’s official curriculum – and have attacked those that do not comply.

They have killed and abducted hundreds of students and teachers, destroyed schools, threatened parents, saying they must keep them at home, and used schools as bases to hold and torture hostages, the report said.

“These criminal attacks don’t just cause immediate physical and psychological harm to victims; they jeopardize the future of tens of thousands of students,” wrote Ilaria Allegrozzi, the author of the report.

Separatist leaders were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

In responses published in the HRW report, separatist leaders did not directly address accusations their groups had attacked schools. They said that people living in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions had willingly rejected the formal education system in favour of an English-centric, community-led curriculum.

Government forces, which are regularly accused of committing atrocities against civilians, have made only 23 arrests linked to education-related attacks as of November 2021, the report found.

“As the future of children in the Anglophone regions hangs in the balance, the authorities should live up to their responsibility to ensure children’s safe access to education and protection from harm, Allegrozzi said.

A government spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

More than 3 000 people have been killed in Cameroon since the conflict began, and half a million more displaced.